My first taste of the Caribbean was not a rummy cocktail or a fried plantain: It was a blast of salty dirt, delivered to my face when I stood up in the back of a Jeep as we rattled up Aruba’s hardscrabble east coast.
My friend Will and I hadn’t been on the island for an hour when he ordered us into the Jeep. He drove us past the casino- and Dutch tourist−choked beaches of Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, through the time-warped streets of San Nicolas, and into a windswept scrubland called Arikok National Park.
The pavement ended at the park’s south entrance, but we bounced on, passing craggy volcanic cliffs. Our destination was Boca Prins, a restaurant, bar, and gift shop over-looking the ocean that requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach, announces last call at dusk, and anchors its drinks in clay cup holders to keep them upright in the wind.
After bottles of local Balashi beer and plates of chicken pinchos with pan bati (a cornmeal-based pancake), we walked down to a small beach, also named Boca Prins. A sign written in English, Dutch, and the local Creole language, Papiamento, prohibited swimming but said nothing about campfires, so we lit some driftwood as the last headlights disappeared from the bar’s parking lot.
A sunset beer at Boca Prins became a nightly ritual of our Aruba trip. It wasn’t the Caribbean I’d envisioned, but it was the Caribbean I’ve come to look forward to. —Nick Fauchald
Stay at the Boardwalk Hotel in Oranjestad. Rooms from $305. This appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.